By Julian Haxby, Chair, Alliance for Camphill
I don't live in a Camphill community. I am an outsider looking in. But I have a deep connection with Camphill, through a close family member who has lived in its communities for about 45 years. This has given me an insight into the curative and transformative qualities of Camphill living.
I have found it extraordinarily inspiring to see people coming together to work towards such high ideals and making such a valuable contribution to society. But I have also had the painful experience of seeing how fragile and vulnerable Camphill communities can be, within a wider social and political environment which is not always in tune with those ideals and that kind of life.
One of the great strengths of Camphill communities, it seems to me, has been their constant cycle of cross-fertilisation, through exchanges of experience gained in different settings, fed by a sense of joint endeavour and a willingness to learn from others. This shared sense of striving reflects what is essentially a “work-in-progress,” never a perfectly realised model.
Camphill is life itself
This is precisely because the Camphill “project” is life itself, in all its different aspects, and is not confined to any fixed system or scheme. These connections give each community a feeling of being part of, and in touch with, something greater than itself, and of making its own contribution to that greater whole.
Camphill communities have experienced their ups and downs over the years but evolution is not all about the survival of the fittest: the survivors are not only the strongest but also those best able to respond to change. Camphill, too, is a living organism, dependent on the interplay of its various parts and on a balance with the environmental conditions and elements on which it also depends.
“Many feel themselves crushed by the weight of the times, and despair of the power of ideas as creative forces. They are ’waiting’ until ‘circumstances’ produce a more favourable state of affairs. However, circumstances will never produce anything but what has been implanted in them by human ideas.” (Rudolf Steiner)
It can embrace renewal as an essential and positive process - not like some island battered by the waves crashing around its shores, but as an integral part of society as a whole. Change is bound to feel painful if happens under pressure, as a struggle for survival. But Camphill is not driven by instinct, reacting to outside conditions simply to cling to life: it is a conscious and resourceful body that has a remarkable creative and regenerative capacity.
Dignity and freedom
The Alliance for Camphill was born out of a sharp awareness of the urgent need for positive action to promote and protect the core principles of Camphill, which it champions as an important contribution to society and to the dignity and freedom of human beings with all types of ability and disability. It both recognises and values the great variety of settings where genuine efforts are made to work towards these ideals.
At the same time, the Alliance firmly believes that it is not enough to call something Camphill for that something to be Camphill. This is an old debate, and a very healthy one: it encourages all those who treasure the Camphill impulse to consider its real purpose and how it is best expressed and achieved.
Our ability or our disability does not define us
However, I suggest that we can all unite around the following basic principles:
- Disability does not define a person. - People living and working together with a common purpose and shared values. - A community which offers a sense of place and purpose where everyone has a meaningful role, irrespective of their abilities. - A place where there is no "them" and "us."
The Alliance is one of many groups which support Camphill in various ways and it wants to develop mutual understanding and support with others who share at least some of our aims. We each bring our own perspective, resources and experiences. Together, we can achieve greater things through cooperation. We can all learn from one another. This spirit of give-and-take is the essence of Camphill. Can we, too, cultivate a spirit of community?
The Alliance is in touch with the Association of Camphill Communities, the umbrella body for Camphill communities in the UK and Ireland; Camphill Families and Friends, Camphill Scotland and the Camphill Foundation to see how we can support each other and work together. The newly-formed Alliance is different from these other bodies. It doesn’t represent communities or families and isn’t a charity. But we have the same commitment to protecting and promoting key Camphill values.
We are, as our Founding Constitution says, an independent association of individuals who support the core principles of the worldwide Camphill movement. We aim to achieve this partly by informing law-makers, county councils who fund support, health authorities, doctors, regulators, people who influence social care policy and the general public of the unique benefits of community living, and of Camphill communities in particular.
You can find our Manifesto on allianceforcamphill.com I hope you will feel moved to want to join us in this important endeavour, by becoming members of the Alliance, contributing to the debate we want to encourage via our new Facebook page or in any other way.